China’s ambitious Tianwen-1 Mars mission — a multipart effort involving an orbiter, lander and rover — notched another historic moment with Wednesday’s release of the first images from the Zhurong rover’s new home on the red planet.
Zhurong landed over the weekend, making China only the second country to deliver a rover to the Martian surface. The China National Space Administration released a black-and-white shot from the six-wheeled machine’s obstacle avoidance camera and a color image from its rear navigation camera.
Zhurong has taken up residence in Utopia Planitia, a plains region that was visited by NASA’s Viking 2 mission in the 1970s. The landscape seen by China’s rover looks familiarly Martian. It’s rocky and dusty, and the color image shows off the planet’s distinct reddish hue. It also gives us a good look at the rover’s solar panels and antenna.
The black-and-white snap shows the ramp built into the lander extended down to the ground to allow the solar-powered rover to roll onto the surface. “The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is clearly visible in the image, and the horizon of Mars appears curved due to the wide-angle lens,” CNSA said in a statement.
A CNSA official had suggested it might take until the end of the month to get the first Zhurong images out, but the release seems to indicate the equipment is healthy and the communications relay between the rover and the Tianwen-1 orbiter is working well.
As a bonus, CNSA also released small video GIFs of the lander and rover separating from the orbiter during the landing process. Those views are reminiscent of the exciting delivery of NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars in February.
With Zhurong up and running, that means there are now three functioning rovers on Mars: NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance and China’s rover. Zhurong will be investigating Utopia Planitia, which may be hiding a trove of buried ice.
The first images are a strong start for Zhurong. The science has the potential to be even more exciting.
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